NORTH TEXAS (CBSDFW.COM) — Like the last five years of intensive gardening on my property, I will not be planting tulips this year. It is not because I don’t absolutely marvel at the flower. It is stunning in its simplicity and perfect symmetry. There are over 150 species and more than 3,000 cultivars. Their brief and early arrival as one of the first blooms of Spring makes me especially appreciative of the dazzling spectrum of colors available.
No I’m not planting tulips because I did not plan for it FIVE MONTHS IN ADVANCE.
You plant bulbs if you want a tulip flower. You plant them in mid-December or so as soon as the soil temperatures get to around 50 degrees or lower. The bulbs over winter and bloom in Spring. Normally when you go buy flowers you are seeing them in flower. You put them in the ground and watch them get bigger as they flower away.
Immediate gratification is not the way of the tulip. You have to work two seasons ahead for that Spring color. The reason is that not only do you plant them at the start of Winter, they have to be chilled first for EIGHT WEEKS in your fridge vegetable drawer (not with apples, they send out a gas when ripening that can deform the plant). So that means you buy your bulbs before Halloween, preferable in mid-October and chill them.
If you skip the chilling step you’ll still get tulips. Very short ones. They will not come up in unison and some won’t come up at all. They need the chilling process in order to time correctly their reaction to the first warm days of Spring. If you do this right the reward is that the come up together and light up your yard after the dull, gray days of winter. It is almost starling when they show up.
So if I wanted tulips in March I have to make that decision in September and ordered my super special colors you can buy from the online stores. When they showed up a few weeks later in the mail I would have put them in the fridge and waited for December. Then I would clear out the area in my summer flower bed to make room for the bulbs, put them about three times their thickness deep into the dirt and cover them. The bulbs have a tip, so I would have planted them with that pointing up. I would have spaced them about 6” apart.
But I’m not doing ANY of that because I didn’t plan for it. Back in September. For a March flower. I have already put a reminder in my calendar to order my bulbs when I’m watching football next Fall. Because that’s what guys do, we multi-task while watching football. And the timing will be right.
In these parts tulips are annuals. The bulb won’t grow out in the heat. You can dig them up when you are planting your summer flowers in that bed.
I saved an important fact about tulips here at the end. You should know that the flower only lasts about ten days. That’s it. Five months of planning and ten days of color. For many that is a deal breaker and I perfectly understand. Some of my flowering perennials bloom ALL SUMMER AND INTO FALL. You can soften this blow by planting early, middle and late bloomers. These are three descriptors that more or less hold (all this is SO weather dependent and no one controls that of course). You can stretch your
tulip display as long as a month, even a little more by planting all three. I think I’ll use three different spots and plant each kind. Once they lose their flower they can be cut down.
There are of course bulb flowers that come back every year (naturalize) and don’t need pre-chilling. All the above is only in regard to the Holland type; the ones with 3,000 different color combinations to choose from. How many flowers can you say about that? So if you want that, plan accordingly.